Johan Högdén’s recipe for success: dialogue and cooperation

Johan Högdén is the Bohus boy who dreamed of becoming a politician but went to sea instead. He now works with safety and work environment issues at Transatlantic and he does not regret his choice of profession.
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”I’m an incurable optimist”. Johan Högdén believes in Swedish shipping. Photo by Linda Sundgren.
”I’m an incurable optimist”. Johan Högdén believes in Swedish shipping. Photo by Linda Sundgren.

Johan Högdén is the Bohus boy who dreamed of becoming a politician but went to sea instead. He now works with safety and work environment issues at Transatlantic and he does not regret his choice of profession.

Anyone who has met Johan Högdén, DP (designated person) at Transatlantic does not forget him easily. Knowledgeable, engaging and with a constant twinkle in his eye, he likes to share his views on everything from the future of the Swedish flag to the work environment and safety onboard.
”I am an incurable optimist and I believe in Swedish shipping,” he says in his broad Skärhamn dialect. ”We are ahead in work environment and safety, but we perhaps need to use our elbows more and get better at showing the world around us the high quality we really do have. ”
Johan thinks that most aspects are already good onboard, but adds that everything can be improved. His recipe for success is dialogue and cooperation; to take advantage of existing knowledge, both onboard and at shipping offices, and to find joint solutions that both trade unions and ship owners can agree on.
”We try to re-invent the wheel so many times, but we have already learned many lessons and we have the knowledge – that is not where things are lacking. What we must do now is reach consensus between owners, officers and crewmembers on what measures we should implement.”
”But it doesn’t have to be very complicated,” he continues. ”It may be sufficient that the Swedish Shipowners’ Association are given one hour to talk about their issues when Seko Seafarers hold courses for safety officers, and that Seko is invited when the Shipowners have their meetings. The important thing is not to close the conference doors, but to welcome each other instead. ”

Johan Högdén
Age: 49
Family: Wife, a daughter who is a mate on the brig Tre Kronor, and a son who is studying to be a motorman
Home: House in Skärhamn
Job: Quality and HSE coordinator/DP and CSO at Transatlantic
Background: Went to sea in 1979 as galley boy on Gulf Express. Took his sea captain exam in 1987. Teacher at the Maritime Secondary School in Skärhamn 1998 – 2007. With Transatlantic since 2007.
Work environment tip: Go to the IMO’s lessons learned. It makes very interesting reading. http://www.imo.org/OurWork/Safety/Implementation/Casualties/Pages/Lessons-learned.aspx

Early interest in the work environment
He bases his views about shipping and life onboard on many years of experience and studies. At the age of 16 Johan went to sea as a galley boy. His sights were set on politics and shipping was going to be just one step in that direction.
Although Johan later became both chairman of a local youth association and had other political commissions, he enjoyed being at sea far too much to leave it. But even as fresh deckhand, he had a nose for the work environment and safety issues.
”Rune Ljungström was the world’s kindest bosun. He pushed a pair of ear defenders over my ears and said, ”You’re not going to make the same mistake as I did.” Rune was big and strong and kind as a bear, and you wouldn’t want to argue with him. But it’s the same thing today, too. The young crewmembers listen to the more experienced hands, and if the older ones are halfway smart, they can have a big influence on the new lads coming on to the ships. This applies to both students and new employees.”
The bosun’s attitude, and the fact that Johan witnessed a couple of serious accidents, meant that he became more careful about using safety equipment.
”To begin with people wondered what sort of UFO I was, running around dressed up in all the gear on deck. But then they also realized that it was not a bad thing to protect themselves and it became almost a contest to see who could put on the most and best stuff,” he explains.
Often at sea
For the last four years he has been working with safety and work environment issues at the shipping office. ”But my 20 years at sea have been invaluable in my current job,” he says, adding that he is often out on the ships and talking with the crews.
”In one and a half weeks I have visited two ships, and for a landed sailor like me these visits are worth gold. It also means that I don’t drown in the documents and forms and that I keep up with what is happening onboard,” he says.
After noting the shortcomings and complaints during his visits to the ships, he returns to the office and tries to solve them.
”Seafarers are often good at explaining why they have this or that opinion and if there’s one thing I like, it’s constructive criticism.”
Linda Sundgren

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